A lot of good music came our way this year, though you wouldn't know it if you spent much time listening to the radio, or as us devotees of XM and Sirius distinguish it, "terrestrial radio." The non-comms at the bottom of the FM dial, along with great stations like KGSR in Austin and WMVY on Martha's Vineyard tried to pick up the slack, but the music business doesn't make it easy.
Which is why newish magazines like Harp and Tracks are so valuable, carrying the torch of indie labels and singer-songwriters who deserve better. Judging by the top 10 lists now filtering out, many music critics feel their pain, and they provide valuable guideposts to greater musical enlightenment.
Sometimes critics seem to jazz up their lists more to impress their peers than cop to the tunes that really grabbed them. However, Dave McGurgan's list at phillyburbs.com is as eclectic as it is heartfelt.
From the Boston Globe's squadron of critics, Green Day, Loretta Lynn and the Scissor Sisters kept popping up, though Joan Anderman may have hit the most nails on the head with her picks.http://www.boston.com/ae/music/cd_reviews/articles/2004/12/12/joan_andermans_cd_picks/
Steve Morse, the resident graybeard among Globe rock writers, favored a lot of artists who've been around as long as has, including Aerosmith, Patti Smith and the revamped Mission of Burma. http://www.boston.com/ae/music/cd_reviews/articles/2004/12/12/steve_morses_top_10_cds/
From the style over substance file, The Guardian chose to review the top 10 album covers, which, conveniently, also contained some damned fine music to boot. http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/gallery/0,8542,1375278,00.html
Ross Raihala in the St. Paul Pioneer Press happens to write from an area where the music scene thrives enough to merit its own top 10 list, to go with a separate lists for the bands the rest of us are supposed to know about. Watch him stick his neck out for Courtney Love (hey, somebody's gotta do it). http://www.twincities.com/mld/twincities/entertainment/music/10476178.htm.
Face it, box sets look great on the shelf, but after a few spins and scans of the obligatory companion booklet, they often become lost and forlorn in your collection. It's much easier to whip out a single disc than to sift through a box looking for the right cuts. Jim DeRogatis in the Chicago Sun-Times offers a rundown of the sets that might be exceptions to that lamentable rule.
More so than others, Marian Lu in the San Jose Mercury News seems unconcerned about her street cred and goes with her gut instead. Good move.
One virtue of these lists is to give you a chance to at least consider exploring music that you might otherwise veer away from. The AV Club at the Onion.com come up with a few safely away from the mainstream that we can approach without fear or favor. http://avclub.theonion.com/feature/index.php?issue=4049
The AP's Jake Coyle jumps on the bandwagon for Kanye West, Modest Mouse and Wilco, but stands tall for Arcade Fire, The Walkmen and A.C. Newman as his top picks. You may not have heard of them, but Coyle makes a persuasive case for why you should. http://avclub.theonion.com/feature/index.php?issue=4049
And props to Larry Katz and Sarah Rodman in the Boston Herald for including the Ben Folds-William Shatner collaboration in their picks. http://theedge.bostonherald.com/musicNews/view.bg?articleid=59276. The Shat really is all that.